When it comes to ensuring a smooth ride, perhaps no aspect of a vehicle is more important than the shock absorbers. Traveling down the road at a high speed isn't naturally such a smooth experience - even small bumps can send jolts rattling through the car and make things uncomfortable for the passengers. This is why all cars come with some form of shocks installed in the suspension system that help mitigate these bumps and provide for a much more pleasant experience.
How much a driver values their shocks likely depends on where they live, how they drive and what they use their vehicle for. Those who simply run errands around town probably don't pay their shocks any mind. Weekend warriors or those who live on gravel roads depend on their shocks much more. This also factors into the wear and tear of the shocks. Normal drivers will likely be able to go a lot longer on their original equipment, while those who really give their vehicle a pounding will need to replace their shocks more often.
Knowing exactly when your shocks need replacing can be a bit tricky. Typically, shocks will wear out gradually over time, making it hard to perceive when the part is starting to wear out. However, there will be a big difference between riding with shocks and riding without, so those who have noticed their ride isn't quite as smooth as it used to be may want to look at their shocks.
Shocks work by absorbing kinetic energy from the road and converting it into heat, which is then dissipated through the hydraulic fluid that is contained within the shocks. One sure way to know your shocks are not working is if this fluid is leaking. You should be able to spot this leak underneath the vehicle, or possibly find wet spots on the shocks or struts. It should also be fairly easy to spot a damaged or broken shock. If you get underneath the car and see the housing is cracked or bent, it's time for a new pair of shocks. Of course, this part may simply wear down over time as well and may not show visible damage, so it's really a judgment call on the part of the owner.
Replacing shocks are fairly easy as long as you don't have an issue getting underneath your vehicle. Use your owner's manual to locate the shocks and be sure your car is safely elevated on safety stands. Block off the wheels as well to prevent any rolling while you are under the car. Shocks are typically mounted to the car with a system that can be easily loosened by a socket wrench. Keep in mind that if you have electric shocks, you'll need to disconnect them from removing. Depending on the make of the shock, there may be additional nuts that need to be taken off.
It's then time to think about what you want to replace the shocks with. For those who mainly stick to the highway, the original parts should be easy to find and install - you'll just be reattaching the mounting hardware with the new shocks. Those who want to modify their vehicle have plenty of other options, however. Gas-powered shocks, heavy-duty shocks and air-assisted shocks all offer different advantages to those who want to customize their vehicle for off-roading, towing, performance and various other types of driving. These may be slightly more complex to install, but will likely come with their own instructions that will walk you through it.